Beginnings In the End

There are only three parts of the novel that are the hardest to write: the beginning, the middle, and the end. And to keep these posts from going into epic fantasy lengths, we’ve sectioned it out over the next three weeks. To keep things chronological, we’re tackling Beginnings first.

Little side note: The easiest part of writing? The ideas. Everybody gets them. It’s taking that idea and translating into words for others to read where most trip up. Because, really? Where do you start?

That in itself can be a daunting question. After all there’s so much emphasis on a story’s start. Books have been written solely on the importance of the first five pages. I can totally understand wanting to get it right. Those pages will be the ones judged on whether a reader will want to continue. Blow it, and it’s pulped. Own it, and you’ve made at least one new fan. I can see how this thought stymies most ideas from ever becoming novels.

Again I ask, where do you start?

Here’s my answer: It doesn’t matter. When you’re all done with the novel, your first chapter will have changed a MINIMUM of two times. Some might find this intimidating. For me, I found it the most freeing realization.

…permission to write bad.

When I first started writing, I used to write the first chapter over and over and over trying to get it just right. Was I telling too much? Did I keep too much hidden? Is it starting in the right place? Funny thing happens when you write and rewrite the first chapter again and again. The rest of the story never gets written.

So here’s what I did. I gave myself permission to write bad. This did two things. First and foremost, it got me writing. It’s impossible to gain momentum if you’re not moving forward. The second thing it did was take the pressure off creating brilliance on a first go-around. It might also keep you from sharing your work before it’s really ready, but that’s a topic for another week.

It’s like when I first learned how to drive stick. It wasn’t pretty seeing my dad’s ‘82 Montero lurch, buck, and stutter as I ground down first gear attempting to get out of the driveway. Once I got going, though, third and fourth were easy enough. If you only saw me drive by at cruising speed, you’d have no I idea I burned out the first two gears getting that far.

Remember all those questions I had earlier, the circular ones that kept me on chapter one? Sitting in front of a finished first draft, I could answer them all. I knew if it was too much or not enough, because I had the rest of the story there to reference. More than likely there were a number ideas that sprouted during the middle and end that I wanted to elude to back at the beginning. I could see the full story arc and decide if I started a chapter one too early, or need to tack on an extra chapter before the original. These are things I wouldn’t have know if I didn’t write right on through.

It comes down to not letting the beginning bother you in the beginning. It’s the ending that always makes it clear on how the beginning should be.